When we stop and think about it we’ll realise that it’s been an incredible year for us at CCB. As you read your way through the AGM reports, as I have, you’ll realise that God has enabled us to accomplish far more than we might have hoped or imagined. We have much to give thanks for. And we will. That’s what this AGM is really about.
At last year’s church dinner three new and surprising items appeared on the annual calendar; a church mission, a park party and a holiday club. We’d never tried those things before. The plans were ambitious. In all honesty I thought that we may have to pull at least one until the following year. Under God I was proven wonderfully wrong. The stressful sleepless nights proved unwarranted and the anxiety unfounded. Through the wonderful organisation of Christian Fielder and his team for the Park Party, the Mission Action Group and Polly MacLachlan and her team for the Holiday Club they all came off. And they were brilliant events. Not perfect, but brilliant.
But I don’t want the review of our year to be an exercise in verbal back slapping and self congratulatory sentiments. Make no mistake about it, I am absolutely thrilled that we did what we did and I’m very grateful to God for answering our prayers and enabling us to do what we did. But as we reflect on the past 12 months I wonder whether there are four dangers of which we ought to be aware. These are trends that I think I’ve spotted that we ought to be aware of. Let’s not overstate them. Don’t panic. We’re not in imminent danger of wholesale repudiation of the gospel. But if left to develop, these pitfalls could prove our undoing.
1. Let’s beware of undervaluing training in godliness
Training programmes are terrific. I’m a big fan of providing specific instruction tailored to a particular goal. They’re a way of ensuring that certain key things get covered. Last year we began to address this issue across the Co-Mission Initiative through Prepare, because we were aware that more should be done. It should be noted that within CCB we already equip people for local church leadership through Ministry Matters. We provide training in the necessary skills required for small group leadership in Christ Church Kids, Knowing God, Women’s Bible Study and Home Groups. And we’ve continued to help our musicians use their God given talent in their word ministry. Occasionally we provide input for evangelism, parenting and marriage. As the Lord grows CCB we should be able to provide an ever increasing array of training courses intended to equip us for a whole life of Christian service. But as we do this, we must be wary of thinking that the task of growing in Christian maturity is exhausted by attendance at training courses. It’s not. Any idiot can attend a course. That doesn’t mean you grow. And let’s not fail to distinguish between growing in ability and growing in godliness. Growth in Christian maturity surely means both. Therefore, in our commendable desire to be trained and equipped, we must seek to develop our godliness as well as our skills. In an age that values talent more than character we need to remember that godliness is in fact far more valuable to a church than ability. If you gave me the choice between a godly inexperienced man with few Bible handling skills and an ungodly but really able expositor, I’d take the former every time. So let’s not undervalue the informal and unstructured opportunities that church life presents to be trained in godliness.
2. Let’s beware of forming exclusive church relationships
In the early days of CCB I can remember trying to encourage a newly formed congregation to get more involved socially with one another. We saw each other on a Sunday evening but that was about it. We were all a little unfamiliar and disconnected. It dawned on me that we could hardly expect anyone to want to join a church if the people who were already there didn’t socialise together! Wonderfully I don’t need to say that any more. If anything we may need to be reminded to focus a little less on some of our church relationships. No doubt the Lord will provide us with friends in church with whom we get on brilliantly, and that’s fantastic. We ought to pray that everyone will find a home at CCB and will find a Christian friend with whom they really connect. We want a whole range of friendships in our church, our congregations, our small groups and our prayer triplets in which we can give and receive support and prayerful encouragement. And we’re getting there. But we may be in danger of developing a cliquey exclusivity that newcomers find intimidating. That’s perhaps overstating it, but I’m sure you can feel my concern. I’m convinced that most of it is unintentional. Most of us are simply unaware that it’s an issue. And we’d all be horrified to discover that our behaviour may in fact be contributing to it! And so it’s always worth looking around and asking ‘who’s new?’, ‘who’s not being looked after?’ and ‘who should I be making an effort not only to welcome but also to include?’ And I’m not simply talking about Sunday meetings. We know that being involved in church life is much more than pitching up once a week.
3. Let’s beware of withdrawal from the public square
As our country drifts further from its biblical heritage the church will find itself increasingly at odds with prevailing opinion on a number of issues. We’ve begun to see this codified in recent legislation. How should Christians respond? Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, we could just deny that it’s happening. But the difference between the Christian and the secularist world view is now so obvious that no one can really do that. We’ll be tempted to run for cover, especially when the attacks get personal and uncomfortable. But withdrawal is not the answer. Engagement is. We need to rediscover our prophetic voice and continue to engage with what’s going on outside the walls of the church community. God’s word is true; not simply for His people but for His world. Many of us rightly prioritise our personal spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer and meditation. We must not neglect those. But our responsibilities towards Christ go beyond simply paying attention to his word. They extend to believing his word to the degree that we’ll act on it. And that means we must learn to contend for the truth; graciously but firmly. We mustn’t simply withdraw and disengage and think that we’re honouring Christ. I’m anxious that our reluctance to stick our heads above the parapet may reveal that in our heart of hearts we’re ashamed of Christ and his words. And so let’s encourage one another to do what we can to get involved with our community and make sure that the predominant secularist agenda at least has a Christian competitor. We may lose but at least we’ll face Christ knowing that we gave it our all.
4. Let’s beware of increasing isolation from unbelieving friends
I think it was a Campus Crusade for Christ study that discovered that after two years of being converted most Christians had lost 80% of their non Christian friends. That’s frightening. I don’t think it was because all their non Christian friends were being converted. It was because newly converted Christians were being submerged in church culture with all its alternative activities. We must be wary of this trend. I still think that one of the most valuable contributions we can make to church life is an evangelistic passion, priority and practice. But lots of us aren’t there. It was very interesting reading the feedback forms from people after The God Confusion mission. The honesty of some concerning their lack of local friends to invite was humbling. We’ve long been sympathetic to those whose primary source of friendships is at work and whose friends live in other parts of London. For them the workplace ministries are vital and their evangelistic contribution to CCB probably won’t be inviting friends. But lots of us have also expressed concern at not knowing people nearby. I think we need to give serious thought to how we can be more involved with people locally. There are lots of ways to address this and adult education courses at Chestnut Grove, reading groups at the library and local sports clubs are good places to start. But whatever we do, we must not become isolated from the thousands of unbelievers who live around us. We must remain a missional congregation who intend to send missionaries across the world and also send church members across the street.
In my opinion these four concerns are things about which we ought to be aware. They ought not to be our only reflection on church life at CCB in 2008. In fact they ought not to be the foremost thing to remember. But they are worthy of our consideration and repentance. Our overriding response to what God has done in us, through us and for us in 2008 ought to be gratitude. There’s so much that you’re about to read that’ll stimulate your thanks and appreciation. We have a great and gracious God who continues to give us so much more than we deserve or ask for.
To God be the Glory